It's time to Break It Down!
Since I have already established my intention to examine a series of four African Americans and their contributions to this great Country of ours, I will dispense with the usual preamble and get straight to today’s subject; Alex Manly. On at least one level, Mr. Manly’s story is not an overlooked or forgotten relic of antiquity. In 2006, the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer collaborated to publish a 16-page special section on the 1898 Wilmington (North Carolina) race riot. The section looked at the effect the riot had on the segregationist South and was, at least in part, a by-product of the state’s 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission.
This joint venture was a significant undertaking because the Commission had issued a report in May, 2006 citing the two newspapers with having complicit involvement in the riot, and urging them to acknowledge and publicize their role. Both papers were instrumental in instigating a white supremacy movement that spawned the Jim Crow segregation era. Emboldened by the intoxicating bloodlust of supremacy, whites drove blacks from power, purged elected officials, forced a thousand blacks to leave the city, and killed as many as 300 of those who remained. The events of that day have been given various names including, riot, insurrection, massacre, rebellion, revolt, race war, and even coup d'tat. It has been reasonably argued that the forcible removal of a duly installed government (Mayor and City Council) makes the riot the only successful coup d'tat in American history.
There are a few notes of particular importance that should be added at this point:
• Wilmington was North Carolina’s largest city in 1898
• Wilmington was predominantly black in 1898
• Wilmington Daily Record: the only black owned US newspaper in 1898
Enter Alex Manley; the African American editor of the Wilmington Daily Record. Mr. Manly was a descendant of Charles Manly, North Carolina’s 31st Governor.
In an August 18, 1898 editorial in the Daily Record, Manly wrote, what was considered a sexually charged editorial, stating that "our experience among poor white people in the country teaches us that women of that race are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than the white men with the colored women."
To provide an element of post mortem context, Manly’s August 18, 1898 editorial was a response to a speech by Rebecca Latimer Felton, (given 11 August 1897 in Georgia) in which she expressed concern regarding black rapists preying upon white farm women while their husbands worked the fields. Manly’s editorial was reprinted in newspapers across the country; part of a contemporary media conspiracy to bolster the budding white supremacy movement. Ms. Felton, a segregationist and white supremacist would later become the first female Senator in the United States. She was appointed to the office and served one day.
It took nearly three months, but the smoldering campaign to rid Wilmington of Manly and the then robust black leadership class in the community, culminated with the November 10, 1898 Wilmington riot. Any analysis of what happened in Wilmington in 1898 must include some consideration of a widely held “dubious view” of Manly and his editorial by blacks at the time.
Interestingly, in the pre-civil rights era of the time, blacks were mostly Republican (a vestige of Lincoln’s impact on shaping political views). Many black individuals, groups of blacks, and black Republicans weighed in to offer various degrees of disagreement and disdain for the sentiment expressed by Manly. Most believed he escalated tensions at a time that had been relatively harmonious. In an odd way, it may have been one of the earliest examples of bipartisanship, as Democrats heatedly protested and railed against the Manly.
Ultimately Manly fled before the mob could catch him. He relocated to Philadelphia. While little else is known about him, he helped found the Armstrong Association, a forerunner to the National Urban League. Like many of life's adventures, this story does not have a neatly packaged ending, yet there is no doubt, it is another “Profile in Black History: The Alexander (Alex) Manly Story! I’m done; holla back!
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